With From The Jam back at Preston’s 53 Degrees next week MALCOLM WYATT talked with bassist Bruce Foxton about the continued appeal of one of British pop’s finest back catalogues
Thirty-five years ago this November, The Jam released their fourth long player, Setting Sons, a further high point in an already stellar career.
Through explosive 1977 debut album In The City and follow-up This is the Modern World the same year, this Woking trio quickly made their mark, and their most celebrated three albums were to follow.
Consequently, 1978’s ground-breaking All Mod Cons truly showcased Paul Weller’s songwriting prowess and the creative contributions of Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton.
It soon became apparent this trio were unwilling to stand still, and Setting Sons, released in late 1979, further enhanced their studio and live reputation.
All Mod Cons, Setting Sons and fifth album Sound Affects were lauded as classics at the time and remain so all these years on.
And while there was no ambition to look back at the time, bass player and backing vocalist Bruce had good reason to dig out Setting Sons again recently.
That’s because he’s touring again alongside long-time musical partner Russell Hastings under the banner of From The Jam, the band they formed along with Rick in 2007.
The original drummer has since moved on and Paul Weller never contemplated rejoining, but From the Jam’s live reputation remains.
Among several retrospective album tours, Bruce and guitarist/vocalist Russell proved doubters wrong with their work on Bruce’s 2012 comeback album Back in the Room.
And now those occasional anniversary tours have moved on to the album that first gave us Jam classics like Paul’s The Eton Rifles and Bruce’s Smithers-Jones.
Those two songs have been staples of From The Jam’s set since the start, yet many more classic tracks on that same album have not seen the light of day for some time – until now.
Bruce, Russell and drummer Steve Barnard are performing Setting Sons in its entirety, an album Record Mirror declared: “The last great album of the ‘70s” still proving inspirational.
And three and a half decades later, it’s fair to say Bruce remains fired up about those songs.
“What’s really hit me – and this sounds conceited – is what a great album that was or in fact is.
“he lyrics are incredible. That’s really hit home – how talented Paul was then.
“He’s still going from strength to strength now, but the lyrics there are incredible for such a young man.
“Take for example, Wasteland.
“We didn’t play that live at all in The Jam days, as that recorder is the lead line. But we’re going for it this time around, although it’s going to be quite challenging.
“It’s the only song where we’ll be using a click-track, so we’ve got to get the arrangement right.
“If we don’t, the recorder’s going to come in at the right place and show us all up!”
Saturday’s Kids is another great example of the strength of the tracks on that LP – a window on that end of the ‘70s world, yet it sounds so contemporary and fresh all these years on.
“Yeah – don’t it just! Maybe because we haven’t played the bulk of those songs for so long, but in rehearsals we were really fired up.
“It was like playing a new song again, with all the excitement and enthusiasm, with all three of us back in the studio rehearsing. It was fantastic.”
Can you remember the circumstances in which you wrote your best-known contribution, Smithers-Jones?
“That was just seeing how my dad was treated by the company he was so loyal to for many years.
“That’s just life, and happens to this day, where the boss deems you no use anymore. You’re out, and all that past service doesn’t seem to matter. At the time, he didn’t even get a golden handshake. It was disgusting the way he was treated, but it happens to a lot of people.”
Then of course there’s the album’s finale, a cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ Heatwave, delivered at high speed, like Northern Soul meeting In the City fire.
“We looked at that yesterday, having listening to it on my way over in the car to the rehearsal room. I was wondering if my iPod was running fast!
“But we re-ran it in the studio, maybe not quite so fast, and that’s working well and should be fun to play again.
“We have played a version in our acoustic show too, and it’s worked really well with two acoustic guitars and a piano. The band thing’s great as well – really trucking along!
“It’ll be great, although I’ll feel a bit more comfortable once we’ve done a couple of shows, because we cherish those songs and want to perform them to the best of our capability.
“Mistakes happen, but we want to be able to perform 100 per cent, and always do our best.”
Russell recently revealed that Bruce has a great memory for what happened in the studio, and has given a few hints and secrets to his band-mate, a dedicated Jam fan.
“Yeah, but it’s very much a spur of the moment thing, where it triggers something in the old grey cells.
“Remembering how you recorded something and how the vibe was then, it’s hard. Not least as I was trying to concentrate on what I was playing.”
From the Jam have been busy for much of the year, and the Setting Sons tour takes them up to Christmas, with a few gigs beyond that lined up with Nine Below Zero.
Then they’re in the studio, working on the follow-up to Back in the Room, followed by an Australian tour in March. It’s all go, isn’t it?
“It’s better than twiddling your thumbs, phoning your agent, asking what’s happening. It’s just been getting bigger and bigger.
“We’ve had a lot of really good festivals this year, and I think that’s down to how hard we’ve grafted.
“It sounds big-headed, but the quality of what we do comes over.
“Back in the Room raised our profile again, and you can see that at the shows. The whole thing is still building, which is brilliant.”
Does it keep Bruce young? His live performances are still punctuated by his trademark leaps during songs.
“It does mentally. Physically it’s a bit hard. Certain things have been wearing out after 35 or so years of leaping around like an idiot.
“The older you get, things do start aching the next morning. Other than that though, I think music does keep you young.”
Do you dread all the travelling? It’s not all glamour, after all.
“It’s part of it, unfortunately. You’ve got to get there. It’s a chore sometimes, being stuck in traffic. But I’m really grateful to still be able to do this, and the demand is there.
“If that’s the worse I’ve got to whinge about, what am I moaning about?
“It can wear you down, but we’ve got it pretty well paced out in terms of how many shows we do.
“We do two or three then come home for a couple of days for a quick recharge, then out again. It’s not like we’re doing six months solid, back-to-back shows.”
What does Bruce remember about Setting Sons being written and recorded?
“It was hard work. A lot of it was written at the Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush. Some of the ideas were just sketched ideas where Paul would lay down the bones of it during the day.
“Rick and myself would stay up in the studio rooms, work out what we thought would work overnight. Then we’d all crack on, kick it around the next day and record it.
“There wasn’t as much pre-production. It wasn’t a cheap way of doing it, but I think we came out with a good record.”
When All Mod Cons came out it was a surprise after the first two albums. Did the success of that bold move then give you the self-belief to push on again?
“Yeah. I don’t think we ever sat back on our laurels. We always looked to push on rather than stick with a proven formula.
“All three of us challenged ourselves in respect of what we did and what we played. With every record we tried something new, to see how it would turn out.”
Have you a favourite Jam album, or is it always the last one you’ve rediscovered?
“A bit of both really. All Mod Cons was a crucial turning point, and it was ‘make or break’ really.
“If the record company didn’t rate that or the sales weren’t very good, we’d have been out on our ear. So that was quite a pivotal moment.
“You get excited about the latest songs, and we’re midway through the latest album. But it’s whatever’s most fresh in your mind, and at the moment we’re excited about Setting Sons.”
How’s Steve Barnard adapted to joining, the latest of several drummers in the band – from Rick to Big Country’s Mark Brzezicki and Paul Weller session player Tom van Heel?
“He’s really fitted in well. Like anything, it takes a while to get to know each other.
“Musically there was never a problem, and he’s a nice guy and we have a real laugh.
“That’s a big part of being a band, when you’re on the road and in each other’s pockets a lot of time each day.
“It’s hard work if you don’t get on and you’re in the same car for five hours.
“We’re a great team. It’s a good time with us and has been for a while. I love Russ to death. It all works so well, and I’m very lucky. You don’t take things for granted. You have to enjoy every moment.”
It must get difficult, when you’re already committed to playing 10 tracks from Setting Sons, to work out what songs to leave out on this tour.
“Well, it’s a nice problem! We played a festival recently, Reload, opening the show, and it was only like a half-hour set, so we couldn’t even play all our hits.
“This time we’ll have the Setting Sons set followed by around another 45 minutes.
“It’s a great position to be in. A bit of a headache, but we’ll chop and change the set as we go along.”
This looks like it will be your last performance at 53 Degrees. You must have seen a few venues go in recent times in the current financial climate.
“It’s a shame if it closing. We know how hard it is for local bands to get gigs. Rewind all those years to when The Jam were trying to get shows – it was really tough then too.
“It’s very sad if another music venue goes to the wall. But I’m really excited about getting out there. And with this material so new and fresh again, I can’t wait!”
From the Jam and Preston outfit Deadwood Dog play Preston’s 53 Degrees on Friday, October 10, with tickets priced £20 plus a booking fee.